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April 07, 2017  |  Friday words, 2017-04-07  |  231 hit(s)

I've been on a three-week break, and this is my last Friday of vacation. But on the plus side, the hiatus ends with some words.

I have a handful of new-to-me terms today. Let's start with a term I learned from the news. US VP Mike Pence made some waves recently by declaring that as a married man, he never dines, or is otherwise alone, with a woman who is not his wife. In reading about the statement in the New Yorker, I ran across a name for this convention: the Billy Graham rule. Per the NYer article, in 1948, the evangelist Billy Graham and some colleagues were concerned about the reputation that evangelists had (in a word: sleazy), so they laid out some rules that would, as Wikipedia cites, "avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion." Among such behaviors was the notion that they should not be alone together with non-wife-type women, and this has since come to be known as the Billy Graham rule.

With all this vacation time, I also had a chance to plow through my stack o' magazines. From a December 2016 issue of The Atlantic, I picked up another new-to-me term: stolen valor. This refers to people who pretend to be in the military or to be veterans and/or claim to have earned military honors like medals. They might do this for specific benefits (discounts, etc.), or just to garner the respect that citizens have for those who serve. Not surprisingly, this offends legitimate members or veterans of the military, some of whom make a point of outing the pretenders. (There's a genre of videos in which alleged perps of stolen valor are confronted.) Congress has passed a couple of laws making stolen valor illegal, although one such law was overturned on first amendment grounds in 2012. Even tho the term itself dates only from the 1980s, the concept has been recognized for a long time—George Washington warned about it in the Revolutionary era.

Bonus new word today, courtesy of Haggard Hawks on Twitter: Rückenfigur: "a figure of a person in the foreground of a painting with their back turned to the viewer." German, of course; Rücken means "back," Figur means "figure." A favorite of the painter Caspar David Friederich:


Oh, and look, here's a still from the movie The Duellists by Ridley Scott. Someone studied his German Romantics, didn't he.


Moving on to etymology, for some reason it occurred to me recently to wonder where the word eclipse came from or what its cognates might be. Turns out it has a relatively direct origin, and not a lot of etymological brethren. We get the term via the usual channel of < French < Latin < Greek; in Greek, it means "to leave" (leipein) or "to fail to appear." The lipse part has pretty distant relatives in the words loan and relinquish.

Since that wasn't as interesting as I thought it would be, I'll leave you with another, more interesting origin that I also got recently from Haggard Hawks: the word squirrel means "shadow (or shade) tail" in Greek. (If you don't already follow Haggard Hawks on Twitter, you should!)

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